Floating skyscrapers.

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In 1948, Alfred Kinsey and his co-workers published the first study of sexual behavior in humans. They introduced the Kinsey scale (0-6) that attempts to describe a person’s sexual orientation. ‘0’ on the Kinsey scale means ‘exclusively heterosexual’, while ‘6’ means ‘exclusively homosexual’. According the Kinsey, people’s positions on the scale tend to shift over time. You can take the test here: vistriai.com/kinseyscaletest.

I took it. And I’m a ‘2’, which is a bit surprising since I have always considered myself purely heterosexual. According to the test results, I’m ‘predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual’. I’m not sure if the scale measures my sexual potential or the level of my inhibitions. Anyways, the Kinsey scale shows us a simple truth about the human nature – we are not made of stone, and having said that, we can float. Even sexually.

Floating Skyscrapers (2013), then, seems like a very appropriate title if we want to describe the innate tendency of humans to change over time. Its director, Tomasz Wasilewski, created a universal love story with a tragic twist. It’s so versatile that it begs a comparison to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The dialogue in Floating Skyscrapers starts with Michał (Bartosz Gelner) asking: ‘Is that a joint?’ This is, admittedly, not quite as poetic as Romeo’s ‘If I profane with my unworthiest hand…’ speech, but even so, there’s a universal appeal at work in this movie from its very beginning. Wasilewski’s Romeo and Juliet are Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk) and Michał, who aren’t star-crossed lovers from feuding families; they’re two young men. Their fight isn’t with their loved ones; it’s with society as a whole. Because of this choice of characters, Floating Skyscrapers gets referred to as ‘the first LGBT Polish movie’. This label is a bit unfair, since Wasilewski managed to avoid social stereotypes and the story is mostly free of common clichés.

Kuba is an alpha male. He’s got short hair, trains in swimming and is, generally speaking, quite masculine. His relationship with Michał develops slowly through a series of back-and-forth actions and exchanges. They struggle not only to be accepted by others, but also by themselves. In this pair, Wasilewski created very deep, empathetic and believable characters. Their motives seem real and their actions are very human. We see their lack of self- acceptance, superficial tolerance and dearth of self-understanding. However, I feel that the director walks a tightrope between the scandal and the universality of the story. Maybe it’s because of homosexuality is still such a controversial topic in Poland. Maybe it’s because this story is a bit too visually beautiful, creating a sort of a fantasy world that doesn’t exist in reality. To me this movie is an attempt to talk objectively and with no unnecessary emotions about something that to this day divides Polish society. It’s also an attempt to tell viewers that they shouldn’t label love or affection, that these kind of feelings can be found anywhere.

All over the Internet, people have been writing that this movie touches the ‘no-go’ area. That it’s trend-setting, groundbreaking and a lot of other hackneyed things that don’t mean much. I prefer to see Floating Skyscrapers as a beautiful though heartbreaking film that cuts to the deepest truths about love and human nature. We change and we can’t always decide who we fall in love with, but there is always some know-it-all lurking over our shoulders telling us how we should live our lives.

People say Romeo and Juliet is tragic. Watch Floating Skyscrapers and think whether the end of this movie with its stillness and touching passiveness isn’t more of a tragedy than two lovers, deciding to end their lives, but at least being together till the very last second. What’s revolutionary and dramatic, isn’t always the most tragic.

We all float. We even do it while watching a movie – we struggle with the plot, action twists and with the ending. We float in our admiration towards the main characters – we support them, but can’t understand some of their life choices. I think Floating Skyscrapers tells us a simple, a bit trivial, but yet very current truth about the human condition – we are not made of stone. We might be like buldings with concrete constructions, but we all also change depending on the circumstances.


You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. You like tragic love stories.
  2. Your perception of movies gets deeper than just a superficial reception of the action.
  3. You are more of a liberal. Super right- wing people wouldn’t watch anything that has ‘LGBT’ in its proximity anyways.

Floating-Skyscrapers-posterTitle: Floating Skyscrapers (Płynące wieżowce)

Year: 2013

Directed by: Tomasz Wasilewski

Written by: Tomasz Wasilewski

Country: Poland

Genre: Drama


Trailer:

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Autumn Sonata.

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They say that parents don’t understand their children. Take Tomasz, my father. Every time I’m home, he spoils me with sitcom evenings and adrenalin-free beer nights. I comply, and we end up spending our time blinking at the bright TV screen, laughing at cheap jokes, speaking in Polish slang, and forgetting all about grammar. However, if I should dare to refuse, my dad bites his index finger as if to say, “Beware Aga, you’re starting to annoy the hell out of me.” Yet, oddly enough and defying all logic, things end up in the same place no matter which choice I make…and that’s in a fight. And, once everything is said and done, we’ll eat ice cream. Together. In total silence.

“One must learn how to live. I practice every day,” says Eva (Liv Ullman), one of the main characters in the 1978 film Autumn Sonata, directed by Ingmar Bergman. Eva has a point. We need to practice living, nay, coexisting, especially with our parents. I don’t need to tell you that this is easier said than done, especially if you have a mother like Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman). From the moment of her appearance in the movie, she is an intense presence, so powerful it seems to fill up space itself. Charlotte is a famous pianist (a profession that requires fire), very attractive and incredibly self-centered. As the viewer, we can see it reflected in her sway, as she strolls around the house in red dresses and exaggerated gestures.

The tangible tension between mother and daughter grows throughout the film. The culmination of this silent conflict reaches its peak one night as the conversation is sparked off:

– Eva, you do like me, don’t you?

– You are my mother.

– That’s one way of answering.

The talk between Charlotte and Eva reveals all their hidden outrages and regrets. “To you I was a doll you played with when you had time,” exclaims an exasperated Eva, and we feel her pain. We are exposed to the family’s raw past, the daughter’s crippling insecurities, the mother’s unfulfilled dreams. Slowly, the audience watches the gap between Eva and Charlotte shrink smaller and smaller. A collective hope flits before our faces, the quintessential “everything will change, and this time, things will be different.”. But Bergman fools us until the very end; we see that there are no definite changes, no breakthroughs, just a release of emotion by women who are so tired they can’t bring themselves to adjust. Despite deep conversations, shifts in the balance of power, and placing blame on each other, Charlotte and Eva, come full circle back to the same positions they started in.

Ingmar Bergman manages to show one more thing in Autumn Sonata: the difference between men and women’s relationships. Family or not, women talk. Men prefer physical action. Bergman is a genius, as he was able to create a film based entirely on words, yet still comprising physical action that does anything but bore its viewers. Autumn Sonata is, indeed, a perfectly balanced family saga.

People say that parents don’t understand their children. “Is my grief your secret pleasure?” I asked my dad that very question recently, quoting Eva, and he rolled his eyes. He passed me the remote control and went to the store to get our favorite ice cream. And then we ate it. Together. In total silence.


You will enjoy this movie if:

  1. a) you’re not a psychopath. Basing on research psychopaths need extreme experiences in order to feel excitement. If so, I don’t think nearly 90-minute mother- daughter dialogue will get you there.
  2. b) you socialize in a specific way. Whenever around your close friends, at some point you start talking about your childhoods and the way they differed from one another. Note: doesn’t matter if you generally idealize or criticize this period of time.
  3. c) you love family sagas.

Title: Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten)

autumn sonata posterYear: 1978

Directed by: Ingmar Bergman

Written by: Ingmar Bergman

Country: Sweden

Genre: Drama

 

Trailer:

 

Beyond the hills.

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In 2007 I went to Kazimierz Dolny, a beautiful tiny town in the south of Poland. Between 2005 and 2007, it was home to a series of dark and mysterious events which took place in the town monastery. The congregation of Betanki, led by a nun called Jadwiga Ligocka, attracted attention of the Vatican authorities, because, having been dismissed by the Polish curia, Sister Jadwiga convinced the other nuns to protest against the Roman Catholic Church. They decided to contradict the authorities, barricaded the entrances to the monastery, and locked themselves behind the closed doors.

In the ensuing days and weeks, strange rumours started to spread all around Poland. The Betanki were said to believe they could read minds and predict revolutionary changes in the Church’s near future. On TV, there were also reports of ecstatic dances, flagellations and nudity. Father Roman Komaryczko, the only man at the monastery at the time, claimed to be a spiritual leader showing the nuns the most direct path to salvation, which was to let him lie on top of them and kiss them.

When I went to see this monastery, all I found were barred doors and windows covered with bed sheets. But the silence was penetrating and I wanted to leave the place at once. I can’t quite explain what was in this heavy, dusty air. I felt that staring at this building wouldn’t bring anything but trouble. I left, but to this day, the thought of this monastery gives me chills.

Around the same time, in Romania’s Tanacu monastery, a mentally ill nun was killed during an exorcism performed by a priest called Daniel Petre Corogeanu. The autopsy found that the nun died of dehydration, lack of oxygen and exhaustion, and had been tied with chains and left without food for several days. The case was widely publicized in the Romanian media. Writer Tatiana Niculescu Bran published in 2006 a novel Deadly Confession, which portrayed the events which took place at the Tanacu monastery. The book served as the basis for Beyond the Hills, a 2012 Cristian Mungiu movie which was awarded the Best Screenplay Golden Palm at the 2012 Cannes festival.

This film is agonizing, mysterious and highly symbolic. It grabs the viewer’s heart and doesn’t let go. The titular hills are like the Betanki’s white sheet curtains; they are a closed door. They are the proverbial rug under which you sweep your deepest, darkest secrets.

This closed monastic door has several ‘rooms’ behind it. In the first one, we can see two girls. They’re the main characters – Alina (Cristina Flutur) and Voichita (Cosmina Stratan). They seem to have been close once, and now Alina wants to squeeze their common past to nurture the present. But Voichita has changed. Not only has she found refuge in God, but she also considers her fellow nuns and the priest to be her family. She seems at peace, reconciled with the world. At first, we, as viewers, feel that Alina wants to somehow destroy this sweet little paradise. Their friendship is mysterious and disturbing, both sexually tense and girlishly innocent.

Then we’ve got a second room. It’s filled with the priest’s spirited voice and the nuns’ admonitions. It is a spiritual place full of faith and confidence in the convent’s wisdom. When Alina starts showing the first signs of insanity, the atmosphere in this room grows tense and contentious, and everybody struggles to recover its initial order.

And then we’ve got the last room. It’s the smallest, the darkest, and the most frightening. It’s the place where exorcisms are performed on Alina. It’s the heart of darkness that beats slowly and shows the views a simple truth: what sometimes seems to be liberating actually enslaves us. Did Alina die because of the priest and nuns’ conscious decision? Was it due to their subconscious need to get rid of the evil? Was it out of fear of the unknown?

This film raises questions and doesn’t give many answers. But it’s a wonderful beginning of a true conversation about the relativity of good and evil, and about religiousness, which, according to the director, is sometimes evil on its own.


You’ll enjoy this movie if:

  1. You know nothing about the Tanacu case and already want to buy Deadly Confession.
  2. You find this fascinating: http://www.canada.com/story.html?id=3d091048-5392-483a-a8c1-0d57a9f0c4f1 .
  3. You’re religious or not, but you doubt, question, and aren’t afraid of mysteries that offer no easy explanations.

Beyond_the_Hills

Title: Beyond the hills (După dealuri)

Year: 2012

Directed by: Cristian Mungiu

Written by: Cristian Mungiu

Produced by: Cristian Mungiu

 

 

Trailer:

Finsterworld.

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A couple of weeks ago I sent out a request to my family and friends. I asked them to tell me what it means, in their opinion, to be Polish. Curiously, hardly anyone responded. My normally eloquent and slightly argumentative social circle lost its collective tongue. My brother was the only person who actually responded. He talked about the importance of cultivating Polish traditions and that was pretty much it.
I wasn’t exactly surprised by the lack of response. To be honest, I had a hard time answering that question myself. Should I focus on our history and tradition? Should I demonstrate my profound knowledge of the nation’s stereotypical traits? Or should I make it easy for myself and just describe my friends and family? “What does it mean to be Polish?” is a kind of faux-pas question that makes people uncomfortable. Maybe we tend to avoid the big words and empty phrases that such a question forces us to use. Maybe we just can’t pinpoint our nation’s essence.

So I went online. My search for answers got me several results. Apparently you’re Polish if:

1. Your body tolerates significantly more alcohol than other nations representatives’,

2. You know the song: ‘Siekiera, motyka…’ by heart, regardless of your age. (Translated into English, the lyrics go something like: ‘Axe, hoe, two balloons, Hitler lost his underpants…’),

3. You have a Polish flag and always wash it on its own.

Not really helpful, is it?

 

Fortunately, there’s a movie that invites us to go on a metaphorical trip into the nation’s heart. It’s about Germany, not Poland, but in my opinion, this ‘road’ is universal. The country’s heart can be soft and warm, but it is also bitter and full of downbeat sentiments. ‘There are no role models in Germany, no one people could identify with,’ says Dominik (Leonard Scheicher). He also adds that the one person everyone associates his country with is Adolf Hitler (with underpants this time, I assume). Think about it – it’s true, right? And Hitler wasn’t even originally German.

The movie I’m talking about is Finsterworld (2013) by Frauke Finsterwalder. It not only questions the ‘qualities’ of Germany as a nation, but it also casts doubts on the possibility of making meaningful human connections anywhere in the country (or, perhaps, anywhere in the world).

It isn’t a film about criticizing Germans and focusing on their flaws. We feel warmth and goodness in most of the characters; we empathize with their struggles to reach out and emotionally bond with each other. But, for many reasons, the characters fail. Maybe it’s the fact that they are simply too different.

We have a powerfully built police officer who, in his hunt for a bit of gaiety, dresses up as a giant bear. We also meet his girlfriend, a frustrated filmmaker who simply cannot find a good topic for a movie. We encounter a neurotic pedicurist who bakes his favourite client’s hard skin bits into cookies. We also meet a group of blasé teenagers heading to a concentration camp for a field trip. They all create not only a surreal parade of unfulfilled wishes, but also a complicated network of social quasi-connections.

All characters are colourful and loveable. Or, at least, most of them are, with the possible exception of Max (played by Jakub Gierszal), who comes across as a spoiled brat throughout the movie. But even he, in the very end, turns out to be a victim of his parents’ emotional elusiveness. The Finsterworld people desperately want to form some kind of human connection, but it’s always too late or not good enough. As a result, people get bitter and can connect only by complaining about their German identity.

This pessimistic story is served on a colourful plate of well-written dialogue and extraordinary characters. Whether you’re German, Polish or something else: don’t choke while you consume it. Cherish this film, because it is, indeed, both, a visual and emotional feast.


You’ll enjoy this movie if:

a) you enjoy surreal and bizarre visual experiences, and you are able to look through this superficially attractive facade to see hidden truths about human condition.

b) no matter how much you deny it or lie to yourself about it, you are a pessimist. But a good-hearted one.

c) You <3 Jakub Gierszal. At risk of sounding like an immature groupie, I’m stating here that I love my men whatever they look like as long as they look like Gierszal. Not to mention that he is so ‘IT’ in Polish cinema at the moment.

Finsterworld-PosterTitle: Finsterworld

Year: 2013

Directed by: Frauke Finsterwalder

Written by: Frauke Finsterwalder, Christian Kracht

Produced by: Tobias Walker, Philipp Worm

Trailer: http://vimeo.com/87070717 (you can watch it on this website).